PERKINSTON — Mississippi Gulf Coast saw its dream of a second straight MACCC Championship and tying the school win-streak record fall short Saturday night, losing 40-13 to Northwest Mississippi.
Turnovers were the story of the night, as the Bulldogs (5-1) lost four fumbles and an interception. One of each was returned by the Rangers (6-0) for touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away.
"Northwest outplayed us by any measure you put on the game," Gulf Coast coach Jack Wright said. "They had a little bit of an edge tonight. I know that coaching staff, and I knew they'd be ready to play. They came down here with just a little bit of an edge on us it seemed like, and we came up short."
Gulf Coast entered the game with a 21-game win streak, but lost three fumbles in the first half. Two of them helped stake the Rangers to a 16-0 lead, but after giving up a touchdown with 22 seconds left, the Bulldogs nearly drove 71 yards.
After a pass-interference penalty, Jymetre Hester (So., Glades Central/Belle Glade, Fla.) fought off an NWCC defensive back to pull in a pass from Philip Short (Fr., Madison-Ridgeland Academy/Flowood) inside the Rangers' 20-yard line. Hester fought his way into the end zone, but officials ruled he fumbled short of the goal line for a touchback with no time on the clock.
After receiving the second-half kickoff, Gulf Coast struck quickly with a 55-yard Hester reception to the NWCC 2-yard line. Deondre House (So., Senatobia/Senatobia) plunged in on the next play, but the two-point conversion failed to make it 16-6.
Northwest wrestled field position back later in the quarter, with a short drive for Tucker Barefoot's fourth field goal of the night.
"One thing that I want to give Northwest credit for is their special teams," Wright said. "I don't know how many times it was, but multiple times we started drives backed up inside the five. Some of it was us not being able to get first downs, but multiple times their kicker pinned us deep."
There were four punts inside the 20-yard line against only one touchback.
Early in the fourth quarter, Northwest returned a fumble following a quarterback sack for a touchdown to make it 26-6.
House got a 41-yard touchdown run with 12:31 to play, but the Bulldogs would get no closer than that the rest of the way. He finished with 112 yards on 19 carries.
The Bulldogs piled up a 408-298 advantage in total yards, but the turnovers easily wiped that away.
The loss prevented Gulf Coast from winning back-to-back state championships for the first time since 2007-08. The Bulldogs had never had consecutive unbeaten, untied seasons.
But the defeat doesn't erase what the elite sophomore class accomplished. They went 12-0 in 2019 to win the school's fifth national championship, logging 17 straight wins across two seasons. The Bulldogs won the South for the second straight season in a year that will long be remembered for its start-stop nature brought on by COVID-19.
"I can't say enough about them," Gulf Coast coach Jack Wright said. "I've watched those guys work in the weight room. I meet with them all time and see their work ethic in the film room. They go hard at practice, and I love and appreciate each and every one of them. It's been a magical run for them. I hate that it finished like this. I don't want them to hang their heads. What they accomplished here is something they can be extremely proud of. They left a legacy, and I love every one of them. They've done much more for me than I've ever done for them.
"There are some guys in that group that are going to go on and be big-time football players at the highest levels. I wouldn't be surpr9sed if some of those guys had their names called on draft day two or three years from now. We're going to wish them the best as they move on."
For more information on MGCCC's 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCBulldogs on Twitter and MGCCCBulldogs on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.
Sports Information Director
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College